CHANGE OF PLANS?
RECAPS
EXTRA TIME
GEORGE MURPHY - Thursday, March 4, 2010
I'm normally the one to defend Bob Bradley's formation and personnel decisions following tough losses to top European competition, but after Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Netherlands even I can't begin to explain what the game plan was against a team who was a perfect 8-0-0 in World Cup qualifying and one of the best teams in the world.

If there was one player on the entire field who could single-handedly pick an opposing team apart with any type of talent around him, it's the Oranje's number seven play maker Wesley Sneijder. Since leaving Real Madrid over the summer and coming to Inter Milan, he has put the Nerazzurri on his back and lead them to the top of the Serie A standings.

He also recently lead the team to a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League showdown. Sneijder is arguably one of the best attacking center midfielders in the world with all due respect to Cesc Faabregas, Frank Lampard, and Xavi.

That being said, you would think that Bradley would make sure that one of the United States' primary goals for Wednesday's match would be to shut down Sneijder and make sure that he doesn't find space to operate, right?

Well, you would hope so, but based on Wednesday's performance I'm not sure if Bradley and his coaching staff didn't identify Sneijder as a primary concern or if the players completely failed to carry out the game plan.

Throughout the entire match Sneijder was able to turn with plenty of time to pick out his teammates. To say that starting center midfielders Michael Bradley and Jose Francisco Torres were unable to contain him would be a vast understatement. Not only were neither of them able to put any sort of pressure on Sneijder, there were many occasions where Bradley, in particular, would simply stand and watch while giving him a free role to play whichever passes he pleased and almost daring him to shoot instead.

On the first goal, in which many will blame Jonathan Bornstein for pulling him down and giving up a penalty, Sneijder easily turned past Torres, split him and Bradley who was too slow to come over to provide help, and suddenly found himself with a wide open shot in the penalty area had Bornstein not pulled him down.

The second goal was also a result of Sneijder once again having time to receive the ball and play the pass that he decided on (versus Bradley or Edu forcing him outside or determining which way he looks, if at all).

And as if the fact that Sneijder had so much space throughout the entire game isn't confusing enough, what's even more baffling is that he was the only attacking center midfielder for The Netherlands playing in front of holding midfielders Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel. They also only had one striker in Dirk Van Kuyt.

Whether it was because of injury problems or change in strategy, Coach Bradley gave into everyone's suggestions and borderline pleas to play the more attack-minded player in Jose Francisco Torres alongside Michael Bradley versus his normal strategy to keep the center of the field under control with two center midfielders who can play both ways. Yes, Ricardo Clark is injured. Yes, Jermaine Jones is still not ready.

Why not start Maurice Edu who has the ability to defend and free Michael Bradley to get forward when necessary? Edu and Bradley seemed to work well together in the second half, but Torres and Bradley both looked like fish out of water in the center of the field, Wesley Sneijder looked like the best player in the world, and Van Bommel and De Jong could classify this as a day off as they had very little work to do against their counterparts.

The underlying issue here is the US' exposure in the middle of the field and looking forward to their first World Cup match up. If they failed to contain a single attacking center midfielder, how will they cope with arguably the best center midfield combination in the world when they face England's Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard, and Frank Lampard?

Bradley will need to look at the tape of this game and make the necessary adjustments in upcoming friendlies to make sure he is able to identify the best available center midfield pairing for South Africa.

The US back line also looked a bit shaky as they seemed very concerned with the dangerous pairing of attacking flank players in Arjen Robben and Eljero Elia. Jay Demerit usually found himself on the right backing up Jonathan Spector as he tried to cope with Elia's speed and trickery, and Carlos Bocanegra was usually on the left backing up Bornstein who was trying to shut down Robben.

Once again, if Bradley thought that last night's matchup was alot to deal with, wait until he has to put together a plan to contain Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Theo Walcott, or whomever else Fabio Capello decides to start on the flanks and at the same time try to shut down one of the world' most in-form strikers in Wayne Rooney. Yes, we still have a lot of work to do.

Of the players who were on audition tonight, Stuart Holden showed coach Bradley the most promise before suffering an injury that was product of a dangerous tackle by Nigel De Jong. Unfortunately the tackle led to another costly injury to a player who is almost certain to make the World Cup roster and who recently signed a short-term deal to play in England.

Robbie Findley did well finding space and working with Jozy Altidore, but his lack of experience showed in the first half when he rushed a left footed shot that wouldn't trouble most NCAA goalkeepers. Findley's performance could be classified as above average. He didn't hurt himself, he didn't help himself, but I'd still rather see him in a starting lineup than Eddie Johnson.

Landon Donovan was invisible throughout the entire game and I'm curious as to why the best player on the national team was wasted on the left flank? I would have much rather have seen Bradley switch to a formation similar to that of the Dutch with Jozy up front, Donovan at attacking mid, Edu and Bradley in the middle, Holden and Torres on the flanks, and the same back four. The formation that Bradley chose was traditional, predictable, ineffective, and just plain wrong in my opinion and I think that he and his coaching staff could have planned better.

The key injuries to Oguchi Onyewu, Charlie Davies, and Clint Dempsey are unfortunate, and everyone knows that. But the coach's job is to field a team positioned to succeed based on their opponent, and last night Bradley failed to do so.
Fernando Sanchez
Tuesday March 16, 2010 3:22 pm
First things first....Could somebody tell me WHAT WAS EJ DOING ON THE FIELD....Do we need more players that only know to backpass....Also...How many more chances is KJLESTAN, BEKERMAN, WYNNE ARE GOING TO GET...???????
marco Blue
Monday March 15, 2010 5:59 pm
Well, I think there have been some good comments here about Bradley's lack of tactical awareness. I agree.. He needs to attempt to best suit the formation to our strengths and that doesn't always seem to happen.

Personally, I think that until we have a true #10 that can control play we are best suited playing a formation with Donovan and Dempsey a bit behind Altidore. Although, I don't think Altidore is capable of playing a lone striker role, unless we're just going to play defensively and just on the counter attack. I think that's a mistake too. I know most people don't like the idea, but I think Adu is a nice match for Altidore up front. His creative ability makes it possible for other to get into the attack.. He can hold and distribute the ball to other players making runs. I just don't understand why Bradley seems to have written Freddy off?
i like tuesday
Tuesday March 9, 2010 2:01 pm
Aaaah, Mike Bradley... Our most consistent player. Not a bad player by any means - decent tackler and ballwinner who is able to spring counterattacks. He simply lacks tactical awareness and has below average defensive positioning for a CM and often plays risky balls out of our own half. To the detriment of the team, he tries to play like the more attacking CM, regardless of whether he's paired with Edu, Clark, Feilhaber or Torres. He was at his most mediocre in this match - poor distribution which consistently cut Torres completely out of the play in the first half. Torres didn't have a good match but he was certainly not helped by Bradley's efforts to make him redundant along with Bornstein and Donovan's equally poor displays on the left.

Sneijder and Elia were relatively contained in the first 30 minutes since Holden was around to tuck inside on the right. Bob Bradley didn't adjust tactics quickly enough after Holden's injury with Beasley staying much wider, leaving plenty of space inside him for Sneijder to operate from. Credit where it's due, Bob did seem to start with a plan that was effective but was slow to adjust in the match, as usual. Edu for Holden, shifting Donovan right and pushing Torres out left would've been more conventional.

The idea that somehow we have more to fear from the English than the players on display for the Dutch is just laughable.
Jonny2bad
Monday March 8, 2010 3:21 pm
Wow, you had me until your Holland-England comparisons--you think way too highly of England. That and saying that and your classification of Findley's performance as "above average." I actually agreed with your point about Sneijder not being marked closely enough, but come on.
Hank Fralee
Monday March 8, 2010 1:59 pm
I take exception with some of the statements in this article.

1. Frank Lampard is not an attacking central midfielder in the same way that Sneijder or Xavi is.

2. The notion that Barry, Lampard and Gerrard are a better midfield than Van Bommel, De Jong and Sneijder is silly.

3. The notion that Aaron lennon, Theo Walcott [who may not make the England squad] and SWP are more dangerous players than Elia and Robben is also silly.

4. Had Sneijder not been taken down by Bornstein, Boca was right there and he had a pretty wide angle for a shot.
Bobeto
Monday March 8, 2010 12:01 pm
I don't think Bradley even thought about marking anyone. He was more worried about the defense and wanted the mids to drop back and help. When Edu came in it looked that neither player knew where they were supposed to be. At least Torres wanted to go forward while he was out there. Bornstein has no business at left back. He cannot read the International game well enough to make smart decisions. He is good going forward but he has now become too concerned about losing his mark and stops short of those end runs. Natural defenders like Pierce know when to make the long run. Landon needs to be right behind Josey up front. Josey is now making creative runs (thank you EPL) and will open up the middle for LD.
MANU11
Sunday March 7, 2010 8:59 pm
For all of you who say the dont undestand coach Bradley lack of plan or why this or that, here is the answer for you all. he has NO IDEA because he has no place managing the national side.

where did he get his experience, high school , college and msl, woodbee doo. give me a break, would you give a coaching job to a team going to the super bowl to a guy with credential such as his had it been american football? NO, you would most likely have someone who has the experience
IntheLou
Saturday March 6, 2010 7:49 pm
Some good comments: Findely and EJ are sacks of potato chips with wheels. Bradley is a great player but neither a true attacking mid at top international level nor a completely stuck in DM either. He has to play for his energy, goal-scoring, occasional killer passing, and tackling, but it does almost force a 3 CM formation against a strong attacking team with a holding behind him and an attacking in front.

Donovan often plays on the flank. I don't know why he was so bad.

Altidore was a beast, I thought. He is so underrated for his ability to constantly overpower defenders, when headers, turn and shoot in tight spots. He holds up the ball well, too. And he has pace. And he can shoot from distance. And he is not phased by any of the top teams (see Italy, Spain, Holland). He just needs a bit more consistency, a bit more vision. But he's so young. He'll be one of our best ever.
Mike Z
Saturday March 6, 2010 9:13 am
I can often find reasons to criticize Bob Bradley’s tactical decisions, whether rolling out the 4-3-3 in Costa Rica or terrible timing in substitutions/adjustments (Italy in Confed Cup). However, BB stated goal was to limit Holland’s playmaking through the heart of the mid-field (similar to the victory against Spain). No Gooch or ‘Dolo meant Bornstein out left, which decreased the defensive bite across the back line. It is true the Dutch wingers had success out wide, but they did not create a lot of chances on goal and needed a PK to put the ball in the back of the net. Torres, who I think has a great future, was completely ineffective. Bradley on the other hand was a beast, breaking up the Dutch attach all over the field, even if at times his distribution was less than perfect. It is clear that Edu was better suited for this type of game (in my opinion made a strong case to start against England). At the end of the day, the primary reason for match was to evaluate players and I think there was some revelation there. (-Bornstein, -Findley, +Beasley, +Demerit)
Martell
Friday March 5, 2010 11:30 pm
I don't whats the point of having good players if Bradley doesn't know what to do with them. He could had easily shown a video of Sneijder to Bradley, Torres and Edu, and picked one of them to mark him all game. That is the job of the "central midfielders", not wondering around all game looking until they get an opportunity on goal from distance.
But that's just something I'm used by now with Bradley, no tactics and poor player selection. Lets just hope that Gulati has a real coach in mind this time around so that we can stop pretending that beating central American teams by one goal in our own fields is a real achievement.
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